Dark Money Fuels the Anti-Abortion Movement’s Push to Control State Legislatures

The Supreme Court handed down the devastating verdict the day before. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationDecision that was overturned Roe v. WadeAnd Casey v. Planned Parenthood of PennsylvaniaStudents for Life of America, an extremist anti-abortion group, flooded Washington, D.C., to join a national convention of college and high school students. However, the group was tucked away in the now-secret schedule were four hours of private “training” for state legislators conducted by Students for Life staff while students were busy with other activities.

Secret meetings funded by anonymous donors to push the outlawing of abortion at the state level — an expressed goal of Students for Life — seem to fly in the face of the leave-it-up-to-the-states argument that the groupOther dark money opponents of abortion rightsThey have been collectively lauded. Justice Samuel Alito in his DobbsSeveral opinions claimed that the end Roe was a victory for democracy and so-called “states’ rights,” rather than what it actually is: A direct attack on reproductive freedom.

This talking point is little more than a cover for the anti-democratic, dark money efforts to prevent abortion from staying safe, accessible and legal across the United States — even though a majority of voters want that.

Leonard Leo, a far-right lawyer and Federalist Society fundraiser, plays a pivotal part in the network of groups working to ban abortion across the country. Known as Trump’s “judge whisperer,” Leo handpicked Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch for Trump’s list of nominees to the Supreme Court based on their alignment with his agenda, which included reversing Roe. Leo was also instrumental in the nomination of Alito and John Roberts. He also worked on Clarence Thomas’ confirmation.

Leo now heads a network of dark-money groups that have raised more than $2.5 billion. $580 millionRecent years have seen a renewed effort to undo decades of precedent regarding reproductive freedom, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental protections and the separation between church and state.

As TruthoutIt was previously reported that powerful right-wing groups have targeted state courts, attorneys general, and anonymous donors to prevent them protecting abortion rights at the state’s level in the future. Roe. That same playbook has been unfolding in state legislatures, where anti-abortion dark money groups like Students for Life have flooded the field with so-called “model” legislation.

Now they have destroyed the federal constitutional rights which were protected by Roe, state legislatures are ground zero in the far right’s battle to force states to impose their personal religious beliefs about abortion as binding law on those of any faith or none.

Dark Money Backs State Abortion Bans

2021 smashed the recordFor the most abortion restrictions that were enacted in state legislatures (108) in a single calendar year, 2022It is on track to break it once again. Residents of 22 statesThe day after, I awoke up RoeThe law that effectively banned abortion was overturned. Similar legislation is being considered by four additional states.

Nearly half of these bans came from pre-RoeSome dating back to 1800s. Many of the recent bills can be traced back religious groups that sought to impose their faith by imposing legal mandates. The most recent bills are tied to dark money groups that authored “model” bills to destroy abortion rights, lobbied for them to pass, and sought to tee up cases for the U.S. Supreme Court to use to overturn Roe.

Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal arm of both the Christian right as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center, and has been designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group. authoredThe Mississippi 15-week abortion ban was challenged in Dobbs. The court was likely to be dominated by the right-wing faction. Dobbs case for the express purpose overturning Roe: It was one among only 66 casesFrom more than 8,000 requests, the majority of cases were accepted for oral and briefing this term. All but one of those cases were discretionary, meaning the Supreme Court did not have to hear them, but at least four justices in the right-wing faction that now dominates the court handpicked them in order to issue decisions about abortion, religion, guns and the government’s ability to mitigate climate change.

This was all part of the Christian right’s plan: Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Denise Burke told attendees at the 2018 Evangelicals for Life conference, “We’re basically baiting [the pro-choice movement]; come on, fight us on turf that we have already set up and established…. [O]nce we get these first-trimester limitations in place, we’re going to go for a complete ban on abortion, except to save the life of the mother” — that is, with no exception for rape or incest.

Not all of Alliance’s funders are known. We do know that the Charles Koch Institute gave the group $275,000 in 2020, and the dark money group shares its “senior appellate counsel,” Erin Hawley — wife of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) — with the Koch-funded Independent Women’s Forum. The Forum and its 501(c)(4) Independent Women’s Voice collectively received more than $5 million since 2014 from far right lawyer Leo’s network. Throughout all this, Erin Hawley has been a prolific opponent to reproductive rights federally as well as state-wide. in the states. She was a coordinator for even writeThe amicus briefs supporting the ban on abortion in Dobbs.

Students for Life, a group that provided secret training for legislators has Leo as its co-chair. He has also led the charge in pushing for extreme anti-abortion laws in state legislatures. Students for Life is a non-profit organization. taken credit for authoring and introducing 27 bills in 19 states in the last two legislative sessions, including its signature “Life at Conception” bill already passed in Oklahoma and Arkansas, which bans abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Students for Life is outraged opposedThere are exceptions for cases of rape or hassling. openly claimedAbortion is not medically necessary to save the parent’s life. ample scientific evidence to the contrary.)

The group also introduced bills in state legislatures that include “heartbeat” bans prohibiting abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, and bans and restrictions on abortion pills (signed into law or pending in the legislatures of 13 states). Texas Governor Greg Abbott invited Students for Life representatives to the bill signing ceremony for Senate Bill 8, the “heartbeat” bill that deputizes ordinary citizens to turn in their neighbors for receiving abortions for a reward. Students for Life were able to leave the ceremony. wroteThey would lobby Texas for a longer ban than the six-week one.

This legislative push is part Post-Roe Blueprint crafted by Students for Life Action, the organization’s 501(c)(4) arm. The blueprint (co-signed by Concerned Women for America’s CEO and representatives of other big anti-abortion groups) is a six-step plan meant to ensure Roe’s reversal leads to a blanket ban on abortion without exceptions for rape or incest in all corners of the country. Kristan Hawkins, a Student for Life leader announced at the 2022 National Pro-Life Summit that the group’s “ultimate goal is a constitutional amendment barring abortion throughout America.”

Students for Life’s revenue has ballooned by millions of dollars in recent years: Its “action” arm grew eight times larger between 2019 and 2021. It keeps its donors secret, but public records show that some funding has come from the pass-through DonorsTrust, known as the “dark money ATM” of the right, which has passed enormous sums to Students for Life Board Chairman Leo’s network.

Alongside swelling revenue and an increased focus on lobbying, Students for Life has conducted polling on abortion the results of which they’ve seemingly misrepresented, including by portraying most millennial and Gen Z respondents as supporting abortion bans when over 90 percent of those polled actually oppose Students for Life’s position that abortion should be banned without exception.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a group founded to “pursue policies that will ultimately end abortion,” has also seen a funding surge to push anti-abortion legislation through the states. Anthony Pro-Life will be represented in the 2021-2022 elections cycle. pledgedSpend $78 million The group boasted that they would testify. 23 timesIt will be in the state legislatures of 2021 and it employsAt least 12 active lobbyists from the state. Anthony Pro-Life’s “state policy director” personally lobbiedMissouri’s 2019 law bans abortion after eight weeks and criminalizes doctors.

The organization has received significant funding from dark money groups closely linked to Leo — the Judicial Crisis Network, The 85 Fund, Wellspring CommitteeAnd America Engaged. It gave Leo the “Distinguished Leader Award” at its 2017 annual gala “for [his] work on confirming Justice Gorsuch.”

Anthony Pro-Life’s leader, Marjorie Dannenfelser, admitted to PBS News Hour that the group’s work to pack the Supreme Court with anti-choice justices was a necessary prerequisite for their lobbying in state legislatures: “The strategy worked,” she boasted.

Leo Groups Support Anti-Choice Candidates

It is not enough that dark money groups can author extreme anti-abortion laws: A majority state legislators must vote in favor. Part of the right’s long-term strategy has been to ensure more right-wing candidates enter state legislative races — and win.

A key tool at their disposal has been the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a national “527” electoral group. The RSLC has been active since 2002 in state legislative elections, but its electoral activity has not been as significant. swelled in 2010It launched the Redistricting Majority Project. helped flipNearly 1,000 legislative seats in the U.S. The Redistricting Project’s goal was to capture state legislatures in order to control the redistricting process. That power was used to create the GOP. most extreme partisan election mapsIn modern history, this has allowed them to lock in majorities states like North Carolina or Wisconsin even though they only make up a minority of the overall population.

These GOP-captured state legislatures have launched attacks upon abortion rights in their respective states. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers knocked downDemocratic Governor Tony Evers’s bid to repeal the state’s dormant 1849 abortion ban two days before Roe was overturned — the GOP Senate gaveled in and out in 14 seconds to kill the proposal. North Carolina’s gerrymandered GOP legislature is in tried repeatedlyDemocratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed to pass abortion bans Roy Cooper vetoed.

RSLC, its affiliated State Government Leadership Foundation, and RSLC will launch their first quarter in 2022. announcedA record fundraising haul ahead the midterms. RSLC’s major funders include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the tobacco industry and some of the world’s largest corporations, including Koch Industries. Leo’s Concord Fund (the formal legal name of Judicial Crisis Network) is another top RSLC donor. Concord has made more than $2.5 billion in donations to RSLC. $6 million to RSLC from 2012 to 2020 — and was its biggest funder in 2018.

Leo’s 85 Fund, a Judicial Crisis Network-allied 501(c)(3) formerly known as the Judicial Education Project, has used the legal alias “Honest Elections Project” since 2020 to push severe voter suppression measures in the states, even hosting voter suppression academiesfor state legislators and the development of model legislation to attack voter rights.

That means that Leo’s network wields its anonymous donations in a multi-pronged attack: Its nonprofit “advocacy” groups author anti-abortion legislation, while its electoral groups fund legislators who vote for that legislation and suppress the vote in order to lock in their partisan structural advantage.

Despite anti-choice activists claiming that it would be overturned Roe Allows people to make localized decisions about abortion, the same dark-money organizations that attacked Roe nationally — with the backing of a few ultrawealthy anonymous donors — are pushing anti-choice bills, supporting anti-choice candidates, and attacking state-level efforts to expand and codify abortion access in individual states.

Meanwhile, the far right is working to criminalize traveling out of state for abortion, punish the individuals who help secure abortions in states where it is lawful (audaciously calling this necessary travel “abortion tourism”), and ban access nationwide to chemical alternatives to surgical abortion. Even the leaders of groups such as Students for Life, which is funded by dark money, have been caught up in this. attacked the availability of birth control pills and IUDs, basic contraceptives used by millions of Americans, taking the position that devices and pills that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg are so-called “abortifacients.”

The Supreme Court’s decision destroyed constitutional protections for millions of Americans to make the most intimate and personal decisions about their health, their dreams, and if and when to start or grow their family. Perhaps it will spark a new coalition to combat the forces that are destroying our freedoms and distorting our political system.

Lisa Graves, True North’s executive director, contributed to this report.